BWW Review: Marin Ireland Rages Against Patriarchy in Abby Rosebrock's BLUE RIDGE
If the majority of Broadway ticket-buyers valued great acting as much as they valued celebrity, Marin Ireland would have been an above-the-title, name-in-lights star a long time ago. Certainly New York's reviewing press, as a whole, has been doing its part to advise playgoers of the strength, intelligence and complexity she consistently brings to her contrasting portrayals in works such as THE RUBY SUNRISE, KILL FLOOR and IRONDALE.
The building intensity caused by self-conflicting anguish that she displayed as Alma Winemiller's in last year's CSC revival of Tennessee Williams' SUMMER AND SMOKE could have earned her a Best Actress Tony Award in several recent seasons.
Perhaps the issue is that Ireland frequently plays women that, in her skilled hands, express themselves with the kind of searing inhibition that the patriarchal side of our society is more comfortable seeing coming from a man.
A male equivalent of Alison, the enraged English teacher she plays in Abby Rosebrock's character study drama, Blue Ridge, might be seen as an antihero or as a rebel sticking it to the man. In the Atlantic Theater Company's world premiere production, the author and leading player stand up to viewers who would see her as some b---- sticking it to men.
Alison seems full of positive energy when we see her at the play's opening, as she begins telling her fellow residents at an Appalachian North Carolina halfway house how Carrie Underwood's song "Before He Cheats," about a woman who takes a baseball bat and a blade to her unfaithful man's "pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive," may have unconsciously inspired her to destroy her married boss/lover's car with an ax.
But she's soon in tears, not because of her court-ordered stay, but because, as she explains, "I literally did that to someone whom I love very much."
The Bible-focused home is run by Pastor Hern (Chris Stack) and his colleague Grace (Nicole Lewis). Current residents Cherie (Kristolyn Lloyd) and Wade (Kyle Beltran) are there for addictions to alcohol and prescription painkillers, respectively, but Alison's presence, and subsequent behavior, brings up the question of if she's become addicted to the feelings of rage brought about from living as a woman in a sexist society.
"I quit givin' blowjobs, post-election I was like never again," Alison tells her fellow residents. The line gets a laugh, of course, and maybe some cheers from women who can relate, but it also specifies the story as one that takes place after Donald Trump's electoral victory, an event that seems to have accelerated the Feminist Movement into emergency mode. So under the threat of institutionalized oppression, have we perhaps reached a point where the type of anger that can fuel a violent act of vandalism can be regarded as a perfectly reasonable response?
Under Tabi Magar's direction, Blue Ridge is at its best when focused on Alison and her issues, which include an attraction to new resident Cole (Peter Mark Kendall), who has been diagnosed with Intermittent Explosive Disorder. Her cravings for attention are expressed through seductive attitudes and her comical mocking of Blanche DuBois. But when Alison's feelings of loneliness and self-hatred surface, Ireland throws herself full force into horrific displays of anger and frustration.
Despite a perfectly fine supporting ensemble, the other characters aren't nearly as interesting. Neither is the plot concerning Alison putting herself in the middle of a situation she perceives as a woman being taken advantage of by a man in power.
Naturally, this male reviewer will recognize how Rosebrock's play may have a greater impact on women who feel the justified rage arising from their everyday dealings with a patriarchal society, but BLUE RIDGE's well-written central character, and the actor who is brilliantly portraying her, deserve a richer drama.